Bakeries, Supply Stores and Dairy Depots

Gerald Buttigieg ------ 22 September 2012
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Do not ask me what prompted this particular subject but Allan Jackson did ask that I contribute to the FAD website when possible. When I was thinking what to write about, the idea of bakeries and dairy depots came to mind. In my time there were no dairies as such in Durban, meaning places were the cows were actually milked so I call them dairy depots instead, in that this is where the milk arrived to be bottled.  Maybe it was a remnant of a memory that persists seeing that as a young boy, living off Moore Road, it was my job in the late afternoon to go and buy the bread and milk for the next day.

The area where we lived for a few years was not far from the intersection of Moore and Umbilo Roads. A few metres
down from the intersection heading down towards Gale Street, was a bakery run by a couple of Greek brothers with the surname Mendonides. The bakery was called ABC Bakery. The hot bread came out of the ovens roughly at 4.45 pm. The bakery point of sale was a small room at the entrance on the road frontage with no trimmings bar a counter and directly behind the bread was rolled out in trolleys and sold off them. If I recall a white loaf cost 9 pence (equivalent to 9 cents). A half loaf could be bought as well, being cut there and then. Half pennies in those days were valid coins! On the counter was a pile of grease proof tissue cut about 100 mm wide and which just wrapped round the loaf and you were given your bread wrapped with this. There seemed to be no big deal on hygiene.  Cars used to line up outside and business was hectic at that time of the afternoon. The bread used to be piping hot and juggling it home was the norm. The ABC Bakery was not a “major” bakery in that it supplied the area mainly and I cannot recall the extent to which it undertook deliveries if it did. However it did a roaring trade every day.

Right next door to the bakery was the Mazuri Supply Store, run in those days by two ladies. It was here that I would buy our milk requirement if needed.  In the days before the Checkers, SPAR and P&P supermarkets, each communal area had its own supply store. A supply store was what could be called a grocery shop. Their stock consisted mostly of the general tinned items, cheese, milk, eggs, cold meats, but no prepared food. As I recall the Mazuri shop, all the tinned and boxed stock was on shelves directly behind the counterhands. The counter was the glass fronted cold storage unit which held the cheese, margarine, cold stuff and the milk.

As far as I can recall, there was only one supply store “per area” so there was not that much competition amongst supply stores. Probably the biggest competition came from the area Tea Rooms, which could sell bread and milk and some prepared foods liked cooked sausages, roasted chickens and the like but generally were  not allowed to sell groceries. They seemed to all operate in harmony in that the supply stores closed after 5 pm whilst the tearooms stayed open till late, especially those that had juke boxes and teenagers would gather at the local T Room and listen to the latest rock tunes available. The local tearooms or cafés, had a character of their own in the area. Many were either Greek or Portuguese owned; the Greek ones could always be identified by the owner sitting at a small table looking out onto the road drinking his small black coffee with a glass of water at hand. One particular one comes to mind in Umbilo which was Theo’s Café, a landmark in that area for many years. 

Reverting back to the Moore Road/ Umbilo Road junction, turning right and heading towards Clark Road, a short distance into Umbilo Road on the left one came to the Royal and Regent Dairy. Again this business if I recall was not a major supplier to the Durban area but it was a busy establishment which bottled milk and dairy products on its premises. There was a sales point in the front which consisted of a couple of cold storage units filled with their dairy products and which also served as the counter. The interior of the sales outlet I recall was tiled in mint green 6 x 6 tiles. On the side of the premises was a passage which lead to the bottling area and this used to be hosed down regularly by the dairy staff. I have no idea where the Royal and Regent sourced their milk supply.

Carrying on further down Umbilo Road, one came to Barrett’s Bakery. It does not exist today but the last time I went past the site it was a LPG gas distribution depot. Barrett’s was quite a well known bakery at the time and it did serve the wider Durban area. It however could not compete with its other competitors in size. The Barrett’s delivery trucks were painted dark heritage green and the lettering on them was done in gold in a flowing style. If I recall correctly it was their vans that had the reminder, “Please pass the bread” painted on the back.

The next bakery I recall was way down Congella way. I am trying to recall its exact location as the buildings still exists today but not as a bakery. It was virtually where Sydney Road joined the end of Umbilo Road near the present Congella railway station. Its location needs confirmation. The bakery was called DABS which stood for Durban Amalgamated Bakeries. This was a major bakery operation and its bread was sold all over Durban. A bit vague on this but I have an idea their delivery vans were blue, white and yellow.

When I first came to live permanently in Durban in 1954, the biggest bakery operation in Durban was Bakers and this was situated on the block of land bounding West Street and Brickhill Road. Bakers not only baked bread but also a complete range of biscuits and continue to do so to this day though the variety seemed to have diminished somewhat over the years. The early bakery buildings were demolished and a new shopping complex built on the site but in the 50s, lining Brickhill Road were the garages where the delivery vehicles were parked. The Bakers vans were painted a deep red with black lettering. Behind these garages was the actual bakery. On the corner of West Street and Brickhill Road was an old fashioned wood and glass fronted shop which was the sales point for the bakery. The building housing the garages running along Brickhill Road was double storied and above on the outside walls were painted enormous replicas of Baker’s Marie and Tennis biscuits.  At night these were lit up by a single lamp which was mounted above them. I have heard that this bakery was originally the Baumann’s Bakery but I cannot confirm this.*** When the Bakers Bakery site was eventually sold, baking operations were moved to Sydney Road where it exists today as far as I know. I am not sure where the biscuits are now produced if at all in Durban.

[***The story about Baumann's changing its name to Bakers is quite true. In WWI there was a backlash again Baumann's because his German origin and a crowd burnt down a bakery. This is in spite of the fact that Baumann's sons were in the South African Army fighting the Germans. Anyhow, it was judged expedient to change the name to Bakers. Ed.]

I stand to be corrected but those were the only bakeries operating in Durban round about the 50s and 60s.

Getting back to the dairies. The biggest dairy that has served Durban is Clover Dairies. It has operated on a site at the far end of Sydney Road near King Edward VIII Hospital. As far as I know it still operates from there. The Carte family apparently owned the dairy originally but I am not familiar with its origins or history. It more than likely has been operating in Durban for over 100 years now.

Another dairy operating in Durban in the 50s and 60 was Baynesfield Dairies. I have since come to know that Baynesfield Dairies was part of Joseph Baynes’s dairy empire which was operated from his large farm, Nel’s Rust , today  known as Baynesfield. It still exists today but the dairy side stopped operating years ago. It is situated on the R56 road leading to Richmond in the Midlands. I can well recall Baynesfield milk being available at Durban outlets but never knew where it was bottled and distributed from. I have come across a reference to Joseph Baynes’s entry into the Durban milk supply market. I quote from his biography written by R.O. Pearse called “Joseph Baynes Pioneer”.  

“Up to 1901, the milk and creamery business in the Durban area had been completely unorganised. Durban householders had to be content with milk, of either good or bad origin, carried in bottles fully exposed to the rays of the sub-tropical sun, and merely slung around the shoulders of a doubtfully hygienic delivery man. The cleanliness of the bottles was always open to question, they were filled again and again and corks harbouring millions of germs were used until they crumbled away.

This state of affairs was a challenge to a man like Joseph Baynes. He saw his chance and moved rapidly. During his visits to England he had seized the opportunity of examining the ‘Model Dairy’ system there and he was determined to introduce the system into Durban.  Joseph Baynes chose the site for his first Model Dairy with great care. It adjoined the premises of Sloan & Sons in West Street and was directly opposite the great shopping emporium of Messers Harvey, Greenacre and Co. The front portion of the building was a truly magnificent room. Durban had never seen anything like it.

Picture courtesy G. Buttigieg.

The picture shows Joseph Baynes' s original dairy on the present day Baynesfield estate. It is a national monument and the dairy portion still has a lot of the original equipment. The whole of the Baynesfield Estate was bequeathed to South Africa for posterity.

<== Click to view enlargement.

Everything, needless to say, was spotlessly clean and hygienic. The room was well lit by large windows, and was provided with large gleaming marble tables. The floor was tiled and the walls and ceiling were covered with ornamental steel plating which was flat painted in cool tints. Palms and ferns were to be seen around the room, and these added still further to the effect of the décor. The counter was also made of marble with a base of polished teak. On this were three large show refrigerators, made almost wholly of glass, and intended for the display of butter, and other dairy products.

Here rich country milk was served by the glass, together with butter, eggs, new-milk cheese, Gervais or Continental
cream cheese, ice creams, milk shakes, egg and milk cream, Devonshire cream and junket. The milk was sold at 4 pence (4c) per pint and butter at two shillings sixpence (25 cents) per pound. Orders for regular supplies were accepted. Natal had never before seen such a dairy establishment and it is no wonder that the opening caused a commercial sensation at the port and was much commented on in the Natal press of the time.

Behind the retail shop was the insulated storage room, the power being generated by a 5 horse power oil engine. Here also was a chamber where the ice for the business was manufactured. Close by was a room with hot and cold water laid on and filled with racks and other necessary equipment where the cans could be washed. Also in the back was a magnificent refrigerator where it was possible to store 240 dozen eggs and almost a ton of butter.

The Model Dairy arranged for the sending of milk to all parts of Durban in insulated cans transported by light vans and (an innovation to the port) ‘milk perambulators’. The delivery vans were fitted with insulated boxes with separate compartments for ice and butter for delivery and casual sale. In this way these products reached the customer in prime condition even during the very hot and humid weather of midsummer.

The delivery cans which were coated with a form of silicate of cotton, were especially constructed for the Model Dairy from designs supplied by Joseph Baynes himself and this was the first time they had become available in Natal. Even on the hottest Durban summer day, milk which had left the depot almost frozen reached its destination only 4 or 5 degrees warmer. Of course most of the milk came from Baynes’s own Nel’s Rust Dairy. During the early 1950s the Dairy was sending 1000 gallons of milk a day to Durban in 10 gallon drums.

This, however, was only the beginning. Soon two additional Model Dairy shops were opened in town and then Baynes spread his wings and started to invade the Johannesburg market.”

The first Model Dairy I surmise must have been somewhere in the vicinity of where House and Home is in West Street today.  The other two outlets mentioned in the book are not elaborated on but no doubt one was the Model Dairy in Gardner Street and the second the Model Dairy on the beachfront which has just recently been demolished in the beachfront revamp.  It was this building which gave the name to Dairy Beach. My early reminisces of the Gardiner Street Model Dairy was a fair sized serving counter as you entered and then it opened out into a large room which had many square tables each with four straight backed chairs. Neat white table cloths and a generally dignified sort of ambience complete my memory of it.
In the biography,  the book also indicates that the Baynesfield dairy depot in later years was in Queen Street. It gives no detail as to where it was and I have no recollection of this. I do recall the Baynesfield pint bottle though with Baynesfield inscribed on a slant and a printed cardboard circle as a seal.  Whilst living in Johannesburg 1951 / 1952 I recall the milk there from Nel’s Rust Dairies. It was sold in a heavily waxed cardboard container coloured a darkish grey green. The seal was a clamped on metallic strip.  The wax was so thick you could scratch it with your nail.

In Pinetown there was also a milk depot and this was Creamline Dairies. The depot was in Oppenheimer Street and supplied most of the areas westward. This was a fairly large operation which I think was taken over by Clover and the depot eventually closed.

Regarding milk deliveries in Durban, they were practised in the same manner, by most milk depots. In the biography excerpt above the writer mentions “milk perambulators” and that is exactly what was used. These were large wooden carts with hinged lids supported on metal frames with bicycle sized tyres. The “milk man” was a young strong Black man who had a particular milk delivery route.  This service must have generated quite a lot of work. I do not know how widespread the milk delivery service was in Durban but I think the whole of the Berea, Glenwood, Umbilo, Congella  areas were all serviced.

The drill was that a standing order was placed with the dairy and this was delivered every day or as specified. A washed empty had to be left for collection. Fresh orange juice could also be ordered. Deliveries were done in the early hours of the morning and by 6 am I think most households and blocks of flats had been serviced. Originally the milk had cardboard seals but later on a thin metal foil replaced the cardboard seal. I recall at Christmas the metal foil was decorated with Christmas holly for the occasion. One must remember that at the time home security was not the issue it is today and access to most properties was merely entering via the front gate.

In blocks of flats the milk was merely left on your doorstep. What used to happen though was that the local sparrows or Indian mynahs soon realised they could easily peck through the foil so occasionally your milk  was “pilfered”.  In the early 70s deliveries were still being done and living in Westville then,  I recall our milk was still being delivered in the same manner. However plastic milk coupons were now required and were bought in multiples of 10 or 20 at certain local shops or even the local chemist. A coupon was placed in the empty bottle and this was exchanged for the order. The onset of  the high walled properties, high cost of delivery, busier roads and far flung residential areas, I suppose, saw the demise of this service and it probably ended in the mid 70s.


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